The Three Faces of Isabel: Storm Surge, Storm Tide and Sea Level Rise

John D. Boon, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


To the thousands of Tidewater residents who encountered this storm on September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel showed many faces, none of them a welcome sight. I would like to dwell for a moment on three that I saw – three different physical traits that tell us not only what we‟ve just experienced from Isabel, in terms of high winds and high water, but what we might expect from other storms like her in the future. Two of these traits –storm surge and storm tide - are governed by probability. Like rolls of the dice, they have odds but no certainty about them. The third - sea level rise - is all too certain and adds slowly but continually to the danger present in the extreme water levels we will experience in our region in coming years.